R/V Odyssey captain, Bob Wallace, looks for reefs in the Torres Strait.
Photo: Chris Johnson
August 17, 2001
Captain Bligh and the Torres Strait
At approximately 6am this morning, the Odyssey sailed through the entrance to the Torres Strait, the official 'end' of the Pacific Ocean research. The Torres Strait is littered with treacherous reefs that negate any possibility of a strait forward passage. Interestingly, the eastern entrance to the Torres Strait is named 'Bligh Entrance', after Captain William Bligh. Captain Bligh was the victim of one of the most famous mutinies in naval history, onboard his ship, the Bounty.
As the Odyssey crew double their watch schedule, ensuring two persons are at the helm at all times to monitor the radar, depth sounder as well as keep a continuous visual check of the surrounding waters, we cannot help but marvel at the story of Captain Bligh. Bligh managed to successfully navigate these same perilous waters with no charts, let alone such modern navigational equipment as those the Odyssey carries onboard, when a dissatisfied crew cast him adrift in an open boat.
Odyssey Captain Bob Wallace recounts the story of Captain Bligh.
The HMS Bounty was a relatively small, 230 ton, three masted British Navy ship, which had been converted into a 'floating greenhouse' to collect breadfruit trees from Tahiti as a cheap bread substitute for slaves working in the West Indies.
Captain William Bligh had sailed under Captain Cook and was reputed to be a competent officer and a superb Navigator, skills probably learned from Cook, which were later to save his life. He was also well known as an irrational worrier and a persistent nagger of his men when things weren't 'just right.'
The Bounty left Portsmouth in December 1787, with a crew of 47 men. The ten-month voyage to Tahiti was relatively uneventful, in fact the men had praised the skill of their Captain. When the Bounty arrived in Tahiti, Bligh lived onboard, while most of his men under the leadership of ship's mate, Fletcher Christian, stayed onshore. The crew were never happier than when on this amorous Island. Love was free and the crew, including Christian romanced a bevy of native girls. Christian himself fell for the daughter of a Tahitian Chief.
After some months, Bligh began to brood, noticing his men becoming lazier and abandoning their duties, he described his crew as "neglectful and worthless petty officers." The situation deteriorated, Bligh had men flogged and put in irons. He spared Christian, but berated him constantly in front of the crew.
Finally the Bounty and her crew set sail again, the crew including Christian had had more than their fill of Bligh and became homesick for Tahiti and their women. The crew secretly plotted to overthrow the Captain. The actual mutiny was bloodless at Christian's insistence and Bligh along with 19 'loyalists' were put to sea in the ships overloaded launch.
Once adrift, Bligh reverted to the master mariner and navigator that he was. Using the chronometer that Christian had given him, Bligh had to navigate from memory over 62 days and some 3,600 miles of ocean, through the reefs of Fiji, the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait and on to Timor. In memory of what remains one of the world's greatest open-boat journeys and feats of seamanship, several reefs in this region bear his name.
Captain Bob Wallace feels convinced that he will not suffer the same fate as Captain Bligh, but is confident that his navigational abilities and excellent memory would see him safely through these waters if the need ever arose.
This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey.
Log by Genevieve Johnson & Bob Wallace